What is Terrorist Financing?

7 mins

What is Terrorist Financing? 

What is terrorist financing? According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), terrorist financing is the ‘financing of terrorist acts, and of terrorists and terrorist organizations’. It also includes the facilitation of terrorist acts using other assets or stores of value (such as oil and natural resources, property, legal documents, financial instruments, and so forth). Another indirect method for terrorist financing is to store the value in various non-financial tangible/intangible assets. The United Nations defines terrorism as: “[c]riminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

What is terrorist financing? Terrorist attacks cause danger to life, serious injury, loss of property, and build a climate of fear, compromising the safety and security of citizens. The frequency of terrorist attacks has increased and can be undertaken by individuals, in collaboration, and on a large or small scale. The reach of terrorist activity can be assisted by online sources planned at radicalization and home-grown violent extremism, which has culminated in terror attacks involving improvised explosive devices, firearms, knives, and vehicles. There has been a compelling rise in radical ideology in the political arena of many countries including Muslim countries. This shows a threat with regard to their eagerness to execute terrorist attacks. Moreover, extreme nationalistic movements may also speak for a possible threat to lives and the stability of democratic nations. These terrorist groups, which intend to enact terrorist acts, require funding to fulfill their purposes.

How do terrorists get funding? Terrorists and terrorist organizations are dependent on money to sustain themselves and execute terrorist acts. Terrorism funding is acquired from a variety of sources. While terrorists aren’t too bothered with hiding the original source of their funding, they are, however, concerned with hiding its target/use and the reason why the funding was collected. Therefore, they use techniques for terrorism funding that are similar to those used by money launderers to hide their money.

The Importance of Combating Terrorism Funding

What is terrorist financing? How do terrorists get funding? Terrorists need the money not just to buy weapons, but also for their travel, training, and accommodation, in order to plan terrorist attacks and develop as a terrorist group. By disrupting or preventing these terrorism-related financial flows, law enforcement can put an end to terrorism. This would result in further avoidance of future attacks by spoiling their material support, as well as the imprints of their criminal purchases, withdrawals, and other illegal financial transactions, which can also give law enforcements and agencies working with the govt. valuable information for any ongoing investigations.

The reason behind countering terrorist financing is not just because it’s a financial crime, such as money laundering, but also as it is an essential part of the global fight to eradicate further terror threats. While terrorists and their groups continue to grow and raise money with different methods, countries have no option but to make it a priority to understand the risks of terrorist financing and develop policies as a response to them.

How do Terrorists Get Funding? 

What is terrorist financing? How do terrorists obtain funding? Terrorist groups need to have the necessary skills to obtain, move, store, and, ultimately, use their finances according to what their aim is. If any harm befalls their organization's long-term financial health, this can majorly impact their operation negatively, slowing its speed, the terror group’s reach, and the strength of its campaign for violence, which is a way to prevent their harmful methods. Thus the financial management of terrorists requires detailed planning and accounting for all of their illegal resources and assets, along with their liabilities.

Funding terrorism sources and methods: An analysis of publicly-available financial documents from different terrorist groups shows that financial management practices, like documenting revenue levels/sources, expenditure reporting, accounting, and so forth, are critically important for the functioning of terrorist groups with advanced capabilities, particularly those that are territorially based. Any large terrorist organization cannot do without terrorist financial managers to accumulate their revenue, establish their financial shelters - such as bank accounts, front and holding entities, etc. - and oversee their financial disbursements. Their job is also to include provisioning funds to the group’s leading members or operators and further consider the opportunity to invest in any excess capital.

Terror groups such as ISIL have always actively recruited accountants and other finance professionals, to monitor the activities of financial entities within their territories of control, so that they can better manage revenues and minimize losses. This management function can also exist in smaller terrorist groups, but it may be less formal and would involve a lower number of cell members to exercise multiple organizational roles simultaneously and efficiently.

How do terrorists get funding? Here are some typical sources of financial support for terrorism funding:

(i) donations made directly by individuals and organizations

(ii) using charities or NGOs

(iii) through criminal activity

Direct Donations: Direct donations for financial support can be sourced primarily through legitimate funds, in large or small amounts, which have been donated by individuals, legal entities, NGOs, companies, or, in some cases, even foreign countries. These sources can be in the form of salaries or wages, welfare benefits, personal donations, or profits made by businesses. Any donations from individuals can be from their personal or family’s source of income. They can do this by conducting fundraising appeals in their local communities on a small scale (neighborhood, place of worship, etc.), or by using broader appeals through the internet, such as on their social media or by using crowdfunding sites. The person donating doesn’t necessarily need to know the ultimate purpose for which their funds have been applied and will be used, in case the funds are traced back to them.

Using Charities and Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs): Most of the charities are legitimate and contribute to doing important work, but FATF has realized that they are still vulnerable to misuse by terrorist groups for purposes related to terrorist financing. The charities, NGOs, and similar appeals, all of which are based on supporting those in need, are a particular attraction for terrorist actors for many reasons. The terrorist financiers will be successful in taking funds from these potential donors who are part of the general public. Indeed, the donors have an inherent tendency to assist those who are vulnerable or suffering, along with the fact that many governments encourage the public to donate to charities by allowing taxpayers to deduct the value or a percentage of their donations. If the charities take the money in cash, it’s all the more difficult to trace the funding, their movement, and how the funds are being used. There are some charities that have a global presence and work with access to other groups located near conflict zones where terrorist organizations operate. This makes it easier for terrorists to target these charities, such as Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) founded by UN listed terrorist Hafiz Saeed.

Criminal Activity: There are some terrorist organizations that have a separate criminal network to collect the funds. This network includes drug trafficking, fraud, cybercrime, and white-collar crimes, all of which are common illicit activities when it comes to committing terrorist financing. For individuals such as foreign fighters or home-grown violent extremists, the abuse from public assistance or benefit programs, plus the creation of fictitious refunds, are identified typologies. Further on, these criminally-derived proceeds would likely be laundered before they are directed for the purposes of terrorist financing. The terrorist organizations covering larger grounds may seize the state-owned financial assets and natural resources within their territory. Those that are non-cash assets or resources, such as antiquities, crude oil, natural gas, minerals, precious metals, stones, etc., must be monetized through black market sales. These funds will further be used for the terrorist organization’s daily use and activities. The black markets that are considered for selling may operate largely outside of the territories or countries from the terrorist’s location.

Funding Terrorism Sources and Methods

What is terrorist financing? Funding terrorism sources and methods:


There are various means to store the funds, such as:

  • Use of bank or other accounts
  • Use of prepaid cards
  • Using bulk cash storage
  • Selling high-value commodities, such as oil, art/antiquities, precious metals, gemstones, and second-hand vehicles
  • Using cryptocurrencies


There are well-known mechanisms to move around the values:

  • Through banking and the financial sector
  • Through the remittance sector (licensed Money Service Business (MSB))
  • Using informal value transfer systems (hawala) and foreign exchange houses
  • Using bulk cash smuggling
  • Smuggling of high-valued commodities
  • Using cryptocurrency


For the use of terrorism funding, there are many options:

  • Within terrorist organizations: for weapons and material, administrative purposes, overheads, media or messaging, recruitment, training, financial support for the family, communications equipment, transportation, bribing, and mission preparation to perform terrorist acts.
  • Foreign fighters: for travelling services, passport and visa costs, outdoor equipment, purchasing of weapons, and preparing for combat training
  • Lone actors and small terrorist cells: for weapons and material, vehicles, the bare minimum for food and shelter, communication devices, transport, and any procurement requirements for terrorist plots. There’s a chance that many of these expenses are for day-to-day use, which are difficult to identify as being terrorism-related.

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